According to Calvinism, God only saves those whom he chose unconditionally before the creation of the world. To these individuals, God extends an irresistible grace which produces saving faith; all others are left in total depravity, unwilling and unable to believe. However, the Bible clearly teaches that God "desires all people to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4; see also 2 Pet 3:9; John 3:16-17; etc.). Thus Calvinism has a serious problem. If God truly desires all to be saved, why doesn't he simply extend his irresistible grace to everyone? Why does he choose to pass over so many people?
In his book, Does God Desire All to Be Saved?, John Piper attempts to resolve this dilemma. I will first summarize Piper's argument and then offer a brief critique.
Summary of the Argument
Piper acknowledges that the Bible does indeed teach that God desires all to be saved. However, Piper insists that "the simultaneous existence of God’s will for all people to be saved and his will to choose some people for salvation unconditionally before creation is not a sign of divine schizophrenia."1 This is because "God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of the full range of his perfections." In other words, God does not save all people because of "his supreme commitment to uphold and display the full range of his glory," that is, "the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy."2
This is the same argument which Piper advanced years ago in a study of Romans 9 entitled, The Justification of God:
It behooves every great artist to demonstrate in the variety of his work the full range of his skill and power. And, according to Paul, it is God’s right and his great desire to manifest the full range of his character in the things that he does. This includes wrath and tremendous power in its execution. Since God is the absolutely sovereign creator, his creatures cannot legitimately find fault with him if he so disposes all things that there are, in fact, persons set for destruction on whom God can fulfill his will to demonstrate almighty wrath. For a man to argue that this is wrong for an eternal, sovereign creator to do, he must also argue that it is right for the creator never to reveal to his creation certain aspects of his personhood.3
Piper proceeds to cite Daniel Fuller, who asserts,
It would be impossible for them [i.e. the elect] to share with God the delight he has in his mercy unless they saw clearly the awfulness of the almighty wrath from which his mercy delivers them.4
Piper’s argument, therefore, may be summarized as follows: God cannot save all people without diminishing his glory, because the damnation of some is necessary for God to sufficiently manifest his wrath.
Critique of the Argument
Ironically, it is no less a Calvinist than Jonathan Edwards who most eloquently demonstrates the flaw in Piper's argument. In a discourse entitled, The Wisdom of God Displayed in the Way of Salvation, Edwards asserts, "The revenging justice of God is a great deal more manifested in the death of Christ, than it would have been if all mankind had been sufferers to all eternity," and again, "The majesty of God appears much more in the sufferings of Christ than it would have done in the eternal sufferings of all mankind." Therefore, the "sufferings of Christ," more than the "eternal sufferings of the wicked," serve to impress "upon the minds of the spectators a sense of the dread majesty of God, and his infinite hatred of sin."5
These observations about the significance of the cross collapse Piper's argument. Piper asserts that unless some people go to hell, God cannot "reveal to his creation certain aspects of his personhood," namely, his "wrath and tremendous power in its execution." This assertion is simply not true. To refute it one need only quote Edwards: "The revenging justice of God is a great deal more manifested in the death of Christ, than it would have been if all mankind had been sufferers to all eternity." In the cross the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy is revealed with unsurpassed clarity. Here we see both the ultimate manifestation of God’s wrath and the ultimate manifestation of his love. God’s hatred of sin will never appear more terrible, and his love for sinners will never appear more beautiful.
Thus Piper's attempt to absolve God of "divine schizophrenia" is unsuccessful. His book brings us no closer to understanding how the doctrines of Calvinism can be reconciled with the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:4.
John Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 13.
Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved?, 39, 53-54.
John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 187-88.
Daniel Fuller, Unity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 446-47. Quoted in Piper, Justification of God, 220.
Jonathan Edwards, The Wisdom of God, Displayed in the Way of Salvation (vol. 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 149. See also Jonathan Edwards, The Eternity of Hell Torments (vol. 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 89.